Problem-Solving Therapy empowers older adults living with mental illness

Bell Let’s Talk funding to support mental health community training

Problem-Solving Therapy training session. Left to right: Kelly Hovorka (RN), Shane Reed (Social Worker), Dr. Rebecca Crabb (PhD), Susan MacDonald (RN)

As Canada’s population continues to age, mental health services and supports for seniors are becoming a greater priority.  In Ontario, an estimated 17 to 30 percent of adults over 65 years are living with a mental health issue.

Through continuous skill development and education, St. Joseph’s Health Care London is paving the way in Southwestern Ontario to make an empowering treatment, called Problem-Solving Therapy (PST), more accessible for older adults living with depression or other mood disorders.

PST is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that helps people deal more effectively with the wide range of difficulties and stressful problems that occur in everyday living. The therapy has been shown to be as effective in the treatment of depression as antidepressants. The approach can work in conjunction other treatments and medications, or provide an alternative for those who may be treatment resistant to medications.

“When you have depression it’s hard to realize that you can work through the problems in your life. PST therapy helps people develop a framework so they can look at the difficulties in their life differently,” says Dr. Lisa Van Bussel, Psychiatrist in St.  Joseph’s Geriatric Psychiatry Program. “For some patients, it empowers them with the confidence they need to self-manage the problems they face on a daily basis and break the cycle of depression.” 

The therapy aims to help older adults, both inpatient and outreach clients at Parkwood Institute’s Geriatric Psychiatry Program. The Geriatric Psychiatry Program provides specialized care and support to aging adults who suffer from late onset mental illnesses or severe behavioural responses. The program focuses on assessment, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention, as well as community support and education. 

With no PST trainers located within Southwestern Ontario, Dr. Van Bussel has been instrumental in bringing expertise to St. Joseph’s.

Through funding made possible from generous donors to St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, international expert and Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Crabb is educating two St. Joseph’s clinicians to become PST trainers. Once trained, clinicians will teach other care providers on how to provide PST to their patients and clients – allowing for continuous skill development across St. Joseph’s.

“The funding will develop a sustainable model by creating a pool of in-house PST trainers who, in turn, would certify more health care providers across St. Joseph's. This will provide improved access for the growing number of older adults with mental health disorders who can benefit from the therapy,” says Dr. Van Bussel. 

Registered Nurse Kelly Hovorka, who is currently in the process of becoming a trainer, is excited to make the therapy more accessible to St. Joseph’s patients.

“Many older adults are suffering from depression and are feeling overwhelmed by life. From handling multiple medical appointments to navigating the transit system – the PST framework helps them reclaim confidence, overcome challenges and better manage their depression,” says Hovorka.

The multiyear project will also be extending into the community. Bell Let’s Talk, an initiative committed to increasing mental health awareness, has provided a community fund, which will allow St. Joseph’s PST clinicians to train community care providers. The funding will also help in the development of a user-friendly problem-solving workbook that will allow patients to monitor their depressive symptoms and actively engage in their own recovery.

“It’s rewarding to see the strength and excitement in our care providers who are advancing and reaffirming their practice in serving older adults,” says Dr. Van Bussel. “We are thrilled to be improving our skills and most importantly – helping our patients.”

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